I doff my hat to a rejuvenated Warriors NRL team that is rewarding loyal fans after too many years of abject misery watching them disintegrate.
Saturday night’s 20-12 top of the table clash victory against previously unbeaten St George Illawarra was as good a Warriors performance as I can recall since making their 1995 NRL debut.
There has been a lot of trumpet-blowing since and deservedly when they made two finals. But The Last Post would have been a more appropriate rendition in recent years, especially last when they wound off losing eight on the trot.
The transformation with just one loss to the Brisbane Broncos this year has been amazing, highlighted by their slaying of a Dragons side that has the best attacking record of the season to date.
Yet smart as the Dragons are with clever attacking moves that include snappy passing and sharp running, the Warriors’ courageous defence stopped them in their tracks, sometimes within a few metres of the try line, time and time again.
Energised by fitness and strength coach Alex Corvo, they are playing with heart and conviction. They also have depth after making some smart buys to inject brains and a better balance to their attack.
Interestingly, two of the better wins against the Sydney Roosters and Dragons came when star halfback Shaun Johnson couldn’t play because of injury and Mason Lino stepped into the breach.
While Johnson is renowned for his pace, sidestep and swerve, Lino is no slug either and he and clever standoff half Blake Green have long, snappy passes that give the outside backs and classy skipper Roger Tuivasa-Sheck more time and space in which to attack.
Another to shine with a strong game was newcomer Anthony Gelling, who had his first start filling in for injured strongman Solomone Kata and can expect a lot more game time.
A big rangy bloke, Gelling also doesn’t lack strength and his offloads suggests big, powerful wings David Fusitu’a and Ken Maumalo can expect more try-scoring opportunities.
No one in the game leaps higher to defuse bombs than the fearless Fusitu’a and the strong running Maumalo is running with far more conviction now.
With fellow centre Pita Hiku adding sting to the attack and muscle to the defence, supporters can dare hope this year’s results are no flash in the pan.
As the newcomers become familiar with the environment, cohesion should grow. So should confidence in the knowledge they beat the Dragons without not only Johnson and Kata, but also champion second rower Tohu Harris who was concussed early.
Tough Adam Blair and the talented Harris have joined sparky Isaac Luke and Simon Mannering as leaders of a pack that now has genuine depth.
While pleased with the latest win, head coach Stephen Kearney is not making wild predictions. Wisely so when one considers there are some tough clashes to come.
However this year all opponents will learn the Warriors are no longer the easy beats they were but are, in fact, the real McCoy.
Meanwhile having observed that miracle from afar, poor Blues coach Tana Umaga will be praying the rugby union gods smile more kindly on his lost flock before some fans leave the Garden of Eden for Mount Smart.
- Ivan Agnew is an award-winning sports writer and author